KNOXVILLE — Can a great coaching staff beat a singular brilliant mind?
Strip away new University of Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin’s Southern Cal highlights, his NFL cup of coffee and his semi-famous coaching father, Monte, and that appears to be the real gamble that UT athletic director Mike Hamilton is taking.
He’s betting that the staff the 33-year-old Kiffin will assemble will more than make up for his lack of head coaching experience.
He’s betting that current Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and possibly former Oakland Raiders (and Nebraska) head coach Bill Callahan can double-team the likes of Alabama’s Nick Saban, Florida’s Urban Meyer and Georgia’s Mark Richt in a way that returns UT to its glory years in the 1990s.
Hamilton is betting that there’s safety in numbers against the rest of the nation’s No. 1 football conference.
We repeat the AD’s words from Monday’s news conference: “There’s no doubt that if he lands his first wave (preferred choices), it will have an impact. Everybody in college football will ask, ‘How did they put that staff together?’”
As much of a stroke of genius as Bruce Pearl was for Big Orange basketball, it will have nothing on Hamilton’s Kiffin hire if the Vols return to a BCS bowl in any of the next three seasons. They haven’t qualified for one since 1999.
In fact, Kiffin was quick to reference the 1990s when he was introduced.
“Back when I was in high school, it was one of the three or four places everybody wanted to be,” Kiffin said. “It seemed like all anybody talked about was Tennessee and Florida State. When I started recruiting for Southern Cal, we’d send out questionnaires and ask the recruits to list their top five choices. Tennessee was in everybody’s top five.
“All these recruits know about the checkerboard end zones, the 100,000-seat stadium, Peyton Manning. That’s pretty good stuff. We just have to capitalize on it.”
Kiffin’s chief plan thus far to capitalize on the UT brand is the use of his family, both immediate and extended.
He has already wrestled his brother-in-law, David Reaves, away from South Carolina, where he was Steve Spurrier’s quarterbacks coach. Much as Kiffin was once Southern Cal’s recruiting coordinator, Reaves spent two seasons as the Gamecocks’ recruiting coordinator, helping land a top-10 class in 2007.
A few more moves like that and Kiffin can match Pearl’s early goal to become “the most disliked coach in the SEC.”
And as for running afoul of UT’s nepotism clause — which states that “no employees who are relatives shall be placed with the same direct line of supervision whereby one relative is responsible for supervising the job performance or work activities of another relative” — well, the Vols took care of that problem before it began.
While Kiffin’s boss will remain Hamilton, the school has stated that all football assistants and coordinators will report to the director of football operations, which is currently Bruce Warwick. In turn, Warwick will report to an athletic department senior administrator.
In other words, Kiffin’s brother-in-law and father will report to Warwick rather than Kiffin, which could really become interesting if Pop’s defense gives up 52 points to Florida next year. Who’s going to grade his job performance? Warwick?
Moreover, does anyone really believe Lane Kiffin is going to correct his dad about anything, assuming his father really is on board? What the Vols are really going to have is Co-Kiffins. Lane runs the O, Monte runs the D and brother-in-law Reaves brings home the recruits with more than a little help from Lane.
Yet all that ultimately matters is whether or not the Vols win big enough to justify firing a native son who won nearly 75 percent of his games and reached the SEC title game a year before his ouster.
On a Knoxville radio show Tuesday afternoon, Hamilton said, “What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to find the guy who has ‘it.’ For me, age, energy, recruiting ability, focus, bloodlines, all those things, Lane Kiffin has the most upside.”
More and more it looks as if what Hamilton was trying to find was the guy who has “them,” even if the ultimate boss of “them” could be a guy named Warwick rather than Kiffin.
Here’s guessing, however, that Warwick will continue to make considerably less than Kiffin’s $2-plus million a year.
E-mail Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...